The kosher community is abuzz today as allegations surface that Hebrew National hot dogs, which have been kosher certified for decades, may not be kosher. According to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, ConAgra Foods Inc. (the maker of Hebrew National products) is accused of using unhealthy and unclean animals to make their hot dogs. According to the laws of kashrut, an animal must be healthy and clean for it to be considered kosher. The use of unclean or sick animals would render the product treif, or not kosher. The lawsuit claims that Con Agra put pressure on the employees “to maximize kosher meat production by slaughtering unclean cows.”
What makes a hot dog kosher… and why would somebody care to begin with? For my non-Jewish readers, here is a little background on the subject. The dietary laws found in the Torah have influenced the way Jews eat since Biblical times. These laws, known as kashrut, are the Biblical mandates required for making food kosher, or ritually pure for Jewish consumption. The degree to which a Jewish person follows the laws of kashrut will often depend on their level of religious observance. Recently, more Jews are rediscovering kosher eating as a way of connecting with their Jewish roots. While I do not keep kosher in the traditional sense, I do keep my recipes on The Shiksa blog kosher out of respect for my Jewish readership. That’s why this Hebrew National lawsuit is of particular interest.
Jews aren’t the only ones interested in buying kosher products. According to the book Kosher Nation by Sue Fishkoff:
More than 11.2 million Americans regularly buy kosher food, 13 percent of the adult consumer population. These are people who buy the products because they’re kosher, not shoppers who pick up Heinz ketchup, Miller beer, or Cheerios because they like the taste or the price. There are about six million Jews in this country. Even if they all bought only kosher food, which is not the case, they would not be enough to sustain such growth. In fact, just 14 percent of consumers who regularly buy kosher food do so because they follow the rules of kashrut. That means at least 86 percent of the nation’s 11.2 million kosher consumers are not religious Jews.
This statistic is particularly true for consumers who buy Hebrew National hot dogs. Their advertising campaign, which touts only using the best part of kosher cows (“no butts”), has convinced many who are not kosher that their hot dogs are superior. Both Jewish and non-Jewish consumers have paid a premium for Hebrew National hot dogs with the promise that they are made from cleaner, higher quality ingredients. When a consumer makes a purchase, they deserve to have the product match the labeling. Hebrew National’s slogan has long been, “We answer to a higher authority.” Keep in mind that this lawsuit is new, and ConAgra Foods Inc. should be given the chance to defend itself. I am hopeful that they do indeed answer to the highest authority. If the allegations prove to be true, there will be many angry consumers to answer to. With 4th of July approaching and grills heating up all over the country, I wonder if kosher shoppers will turn to another brand of kosher hot dog till the dispute is resolved.
Do you look for a kosher hechsher (the symbol for kosher certification) on your food products? Have you bought Hebrew National hot dogs in the past? Are you disappointed with claims that they may not, in fact, be kosher?